On the occasion of the visit of Sultan Qaboos to Iran, I thought it best to review the history of oil in the Middle East from a slightly different view. Some strong language is here. What follows is excerpted from Chapter 5: Persian Gulf Rent-a-Sheik: Big Oil & Their Bankers…
In 1776 the British East India Company set up a headquarters at what is now Kuwait. When Kuwaiti members of the Hashemite al-Sabah clan, who share their surname with Assassin founder Hasan bin Sabah, helped the Ottoman Turks quell uprisings in southern Iraq, the Shiek of the Muntafiq tribe gave the al-Sabahs date groves near Fao and Sufiyeh in southern Iraq.
Kuwait was seen as highly strategic by the British in its role as protector of Indian Ocean sea lanes. By 1900 the British cut a deal with Mubarek al-Sabah which carved Kuwait out of Iraq and made it a British protectorate. The vast majority of people who lived in what was now declared Kuwait opposed the British plan and wanted to remain part of Iraq.
In 1914, in the midst of WWI, the British resident in the Gulf promised Sheik Mubarek al-Sabah Crown recognition of his new country in exchange for al-Sabah’s turning on and attacking Ottoman Empire troops at Safwan, Mesopotamia in what is now Iraq. The al-Sabah clan earned their Union Jack stripes. The Hashemite monarchy single-handedly rules Kuwait to this day.
In 1917 the British made a client out of Ibn Saud, who was also told to encourage Arab tribesman to repel the Ottoman Turks from the Gulf Region at the onset of WWI. That same year the British House of Rothschild pushed through the Balfour Declaration, lending Crown support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Rothschild was less concerned about the Jewish people than he was about establishing a Middle East outpost from where he and his lackeys could keep watch over the center of their global oil monopoly. A year later the Ottomans were defeated.
Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were carved out of the Ottoman Empire and fell under British rule, with Ibn Saud taking control of his namesake Saudi Arabia. His progeny form the modern-day House of Saud. Palestine became part of Transjordania and was run by an emir hand-picked by the British. The Trucial States of Oman (now United Arab Emirates) and the Oman Coast (now Oman) were also given British protectorate status. As Winston Churchill commented three decades later, “The emir is in Transjordania, where I put him one Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem”.
In 1922 the Treaty of Jeddah gave Saudi Arabia independence from Britain, though the Crown still exerted considerable influence. During the 1920’s, with help from British troops, Ibn Saud grabbed more territory from the Ottomans when he annexed Riyadh. He also seized the holy cities of Mecca and Medina from the Hashemites.
Britain and France signed the San Remo Agreement which split Middle East oil concessions between the two countries. Within two weeks the US responded with the Open Door Policy, which cut the US Horsemen into the Middle East oil game. Small US independent producers like Sinclair opposed the policy, complaining that it favored the Rockefeller oil interests. US oil majors Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, Texaco and Gulf- the first three progeny of the John D. Rockefeller Standard Oil Trust- joined with British Petroleum, Royal Dutch/Shell- owned largely by Holland’s royal House of Orange and the Rothschild family- and the French Compaignie de Petroles in dividing up the Middle East oil patch.
The Iraqi Petroleum Company (IPC) and the Iranian Consortium would be dominated by the European companies, while Saudi ARAMCO would be owned by the American Horsemen. The British protectorates would be exploited through various combinations of the Four Horsemen.
An IPC subsidiary, Petroleum Development Trucial Coast, began drilling in what is now the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1935. Today in the UAE oil industry ADCO is 24%-owned by BP Amoco, 9.5% by Royal Dutch/Shell and 9.5% by Exxon Mobil. ADMA is owned 14.67% by BP Amoco and 13.33% by the old French Compaignie de Petroles, which has now consolidated into Total. Esso Trading Company/Abu Dhabi is 100% owned by Exxon Mobil. Dubai Petroleum is 55% owned by Conoco, which also owns 35% of Dubai Marine Areas, of which BP Amoco holds a 33.33% share. The majority of the UAE’s oil goes to Japan. BP and Total hold long-term shipping contracts with the UAE.
Chevron and Texaco, already joined through ARAMCO and their Caltex marketing arm, formed the Bahrain Petroleum Company (BPC) in that protectorate. The new Chevron Texaco now runs BPC. In Qatar, Exxon Mobil dominates the rich natural gas sector. It owns a large chunk of Qatargas, which currently provides Japan with 6 million tons of natural gas per year. It is also a 30% partner in the giant Ras Luffan gas field which produces 10 million tons of natural gas per year.
BP joined with Gulf in starting the Kuwait Oil Company, which today sells discount crude to ex-proprietors BP Amoco and Chevron Texaco (Chevron bought Gulf in 1981). By 1949 the US Horsemen controlled 42% of Middle Eastern oil reserves, while the Anglo-Dutch Horsemen had 52%. The remaining 8% was owned by Elf Total Fina and other smaller companies. The British began granting independence to its Gulf State protectorates beginning in 1961 with Kuwait and ending in 1971 when the United Arab Emirates were formed out of seven sheikdoms, the most important of which are Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. British influence did not wane. Oman remains particularly close to the Crown. British mercenaries constitute the royal guards which protect the ruling families in all six GCC states.
These emirates are ruled by single family monarchies selected by British colonialists to carry out their plan for dominating Middle East oil and shipping lanes in the late 18th century. The six GCC ruling families are inter-related with one another, just as are the royal families of Europe.
Kuwait was officially formed in the mid 1920’s under the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The al-Sabah family has ruled ever since. On advice from Saudi King Fahd, the al-Sabah clique dissolved Kuwait’s Parliament in both 1975 and 1986 when opposition to the emir grew too loud. Kuwait’s parliament is window dressing, since no opposition leaders are allowed to serve in the Kuwaiti Cabinet. Currently 25% of the cabinet ministers are al-Sabah family members. Women are not allowed to vote. Political decisions can be overridden by decree from the emir.
The wealthy bloodline elite who rule Kuwait rely on imported serf labor to carry out such unseemly tasks as making breakfast or going to the store. A full 80% of Kuwaiti labor is done by imported workers from poor Asian countries like Bangladesh, the Philippines and India. These workers, who make up 63% of the country’s population, are often not paid. Rape of domestic female servants is commonplace.
The economy of Kuwait is tightly controlled by less than twenty families. Ruling Sheik Jaber Ahmed al-Sabah, who died in 2006, was worth $4.8 billion. Like the Saudi Sudeiris, the al-Sabah’s dip into Kuwaiti government coffers whenever they feel the need. The al-Sabah clan is infamous for its opulent lifestyle. It is reported that most of Kuwait’s $6-10 billion in annual oil revenue is spent on luxury items. Many of the al-Sabah youth have been involved in embarrassing incidents involving prostitutes, gambling, alcohol and drugs. On one occasion a nephew of the emir was caught smuggling heroin in France. The New York Times once called Kuwait, “less a country than a family-owned oil company with a seat at the U.N.”
Another powerful Kuwaiti family is the al-Ghanims, who gained their great wealth by helping BP and Gulf form the Kuwait Oil Company. In 1945 the al-Ghanims employed half of all Kuwaitis and frequently lent money to the al-Sabah family. They own Yusuf Ahmed Alghanim & Sons which in the late 1970’s became the largest overseas distributor for General Motors. The Al-Ghanims are agents for Isuzu, Holden, Phillips, Frigidaire, Link Belt Cranes, BP Lubricants, Learjet, Kirby, Hitachi, Qantas, British Airways, Gulf Air and Air India. By 1990 the al-Ghanim family was knocking down $400 million a year. In 1975 Kutayba Alghanim bought Houston-based Kirby Industries. Other powerful Kuwaiti families are the Behbehanis and the al-Kharafis.
In Qatar the ruling al-Thani family has intermarried throughout the population to consolidate its power. In June 1995 King Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani was vacationing in Switzerland when his Cambridge-educated son Hamad seized the reins of power. Despite junior’s moves towards democracy, such as the launching of Al Jazeera television and a decree allowing women to vote, many in the Gulf saw the takeover as a CIA palace coup, since the elder al-Thani was a corrupt alcoholic and had become an embarrassment to Washington.
Qatar sits atop the second largest natural gas reserves (900 trillion cubic feet) in the world after Russia. Soon the US established Camp Snoopy on the outskirts of Doha and was positioning fighter jets at two Qatari air bases — As Sayliyah and Al Udeid. In November 2001 Qatar played host to the annual meeting of the World Trade Organization amidst a Doha building spree that included a Starbucks, a McDonalds and a Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The al-Thani monarchs rule by decree and serve as sales agents for many multinational corporations, including BMW and International Harvester. They run several Western franchise operations in Qatar including Ramada Hotels. Another family close to the al-Thanis which wields considerable power in Qatar is the Darwish family. They represent Austin, Pirelli, Union Carbide, Phillips, Dunlop, GE, Hobart, Volkswagon, Audi and Fiat. The Almana family is also influential, representing Peugeot and other multinationals.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a conglomeration of seven different emirates which the British granted independence in 1971. UAE Prime Minister Sheik Rasid bin Said al-Maktoum is a member of the ruling al-Maktoum monarchy. His estimated net worth is $4 billion. His four sons hold the offices of Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance & Industry, Minister of Defense and Commander of Dubai Defense Forces. Two of them are also billionaires.
The al-Nahiyan family rules the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi. Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahiyan became the biggest shareholder in BCCI, which served as paymaster for CIA operations around the world during the 1980’s. Later al-Nahiyan launched Flying Dolphin Airlines, cited by the UN as having ferried “contraband” from Afghanistan, while smuggling weapons in defiance of a UN arms embargo to African hot spots like Sierre Leone.
In Bahrain, long an important British outpost and home to the Chevron Texaco-owned Bahrain Petroleum Company, Sheik Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa and his clan preside over the oil kitty. Al-Khalifa was an investor in George W. Bush’s Harken Energy, which was awarded an unprecedented offshore oil concession in Bahrain waters just before the Gulf War broke out. Saudi Arabian merchant families hold sway over much of the remainder of the Bahrain economy. The Dhahran-based Kanoo family is especially prominent.
The Kanoos represent Exxon Mobil, BP Amoco, Norwich Union Insurance, Holland Persian Gulf Lines and Royal Nedlloyd Lines. Their forte is shipping so they ship crude for all of the Four Horsemen, calling mainly at the Port of Bahrain and the giant Saudi Ras Tanura refinery, which was built by Bechtel in the mid-1940’s. The Kanoos recently added the Kuwaiti Shipping Company to their empire. Another important family in Bahrain is the Almoayyeds. Bahrain is home to the US 5th Fleet and serves as an important offshore banking center for J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and other global mega-banks who specialize in recycling petrodollars. Not coincidentally, a large percentage of Saudi crude is refined in Bahrain under the watchful eye of the US 5th Fleet and the international bankers.
Oman is ruled by the al-Qaboos family. The country enjoys particularly close relations with Britain and the US, hosting major US military bases and frequent joint US/British military exercises. The National Bank of Oman was owned by BCCI and it, in turn, owned a big chunk of BCCI stock. The bank served as a conduit through which GCC sheiks funded CIA covert operations. Sheik al-Qaboos, Oman’s monarch, was given a valuable piece of property near the Port of Karachi in Pakistan as payback for his support of the CIA’s decade-long war in Afghanistan, then handed it over to the US Navy. Exxon Mobil has a huge presence in Oman. In 1990, 28% of the company’s US-bound crude came from Oman.
But Saudi Arabia remains the biggest powder keg in the region due to its 255 billion barrels in oil reserves. ARAMCO, Bechtel and other Western multinationals had learned early on of the need to elevate a few Saudi nationals like Sulaiman Olayan into positions of power in order to gain access to the Saudi throne. This process, which follows a pattern practiced by multinational corporations worldwide, created a huge disparity of wealth in the Kingdom.
On the one hand you have the House of Saud and less than twenty elite families tied to the throne that became rich as joint venture partners and sales agents for Western multinationals. These jet set billionaires spend their time flying to Monte Carlo on gambling junkets, throwing lavish parties for Western diplomats, consuming copious amounts of alcohol and living in opulent palaces. King Fahd, the current patriarch of the House of Saud, is alone worth some $18 billion.
On the other hand you have 99% of Saudi citizens, mostly devout Shi’ite Muslims, who struggle daily to eke out a meager existence and who have absolutely no say in their country’s undemocratic government-by-bloodline monarchy. This disparity of wealth has often proven explosive, most recently in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, where 15 of the 19 patsy hijackers of the airplanes that hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon were Saudi nationals. A big reason why the US now imports Saudi terrorism along with ARAMCO oil is that is was US corporations who helped create the huge disparity of wealth in Saudi Arabia by elevating certain families into financial dynasties and through their unconditional support for House of Saud cronies.
In the 1950’s, the Alireza family got its break selling jewelry for Cartier, Arples and van Cleef. Today they own Haji Abdullah Alireza & Company (HAACO). HAACO teamed up with Mobil to form the Arabian Petroleum Supply Company, which started out marketing jet fuel at the Jeddah Airport and has since expanded operations. Another HAACO/Mobil joint venture is Saudi Maritime Company. HAACO is Saudi sales agent for Goodyear, Ford, KLM Airlines, Air Algerie, Pepsi, Dunlop and Westinghouse.
The Alireza’s company joined ITT as subcontractors to Lockheed on an air-traffic control project in the Kingdom. Another Alireza-controlled company, the Rezayat Group, has two joint ventures with the Tulsa-based energy company Williams International., one called Saudi Arabian Fabricated Metals Industry and the other known as Rezayat & Williams Construction Company. A third Alireza enterprise is Saudi Arabian Engineering Company- a joint venture with the Dutch multinational Amindha NV. Still another Alireza endeavor is Crescent Transportation, a joint venture with Sea-Land Corporation which operates the container terminal at the port of Damman.
The Jeddah firm of Haji Hussein Alireza is the world’s #1 importer of Mazda vehicles. The Alireza’s linked up with Brown & Root, the Houston-based subsidiary of Halliburton which merged with M.W. Kellogg to become KBR. Alireza and Brown & Root operate an offshore pipeline construction firm in Saudi called Root-Alireza. The Alireza family owns huge chunks of real estate in the Kingdom and large blocks of stock in many of Saudi’s biggest companies including National Pipe, majority-owned by Japan’s Sumitomo.
The Juffali family is also from Jeddah. They are worth over $1 billion. Their main company, E. A. Juffali & Brothers, owns the world’s largest Mercedes Benz dealership and serves as sales agent for over 60 foreign multinationals including IBM, Siemens, Massey Ferguson, FMC, Borg-Warner, Kelvinator and Michelin. They formed a joint venture with Siemens called Arabia Electric, one with Dow Chemical called Arabian Chemical Company, one with Borg-Warner known as Saudi Air Conditioning Manufacturing Company and another with Massey Ferguson named Saudi Tractor Manufacturing Company Sheik Ahmed Juffali is a member of the prestigious International Advisory Board at Chase Manhattan Bank. The families’ overseas investments are handled through Enpro International in New York. The Juffali family’s most important relationship is with Fluor Daniel, the world’s second largest engineering firm after Bechtel. The two teamed up in a venture known as Fluor Arabia which provides engineering services to the Four Horsemen’s numerous ongoing oil, gas and petrochemical projects. Fluor Arabia built two entire petrochemical complexes at the sprawling Jubail Industrial City and is currently engaged in a $20 billion natural gas collection project in Saudi.
The Algosaibi family of Dhahran is the richest family in Eastern Province. They have joint construction projects with Japanese firms Mitsubishi Electric, Mitsui Harbor, Sanki Engineering and Nippon Benkan through their family firm Khalif Abdel-Rahman Algosaibi Contracting. The family also has a joint venture with Fiat, owns the American Express money exchange franchise for Saudi Arabia and runs fast food and hotel ventures for Grand Metropolitan, which until recently owned Burger King, Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Godfather’s Pizza. Saudi United Insurance Company is an Algosaibi joint venture with three Swiss companies: Swiss Reinsurance, Commercial Union and Baloise Insurance. Oil Field Chemical Company is an Algosaibi partnership with Exxon’s Essochem Belgium subsidiary. Through their National Bottling Company the family owns the Eastern Province Pepsi-Cola franchise.
The Kanoo family is also based in Dhahran, home to ARAMCO headquarters. The Kanoo’s have interests throughout Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The Kanoos are shipping agents for the Four Horsemen, as well as sales agents for numerous major airlines. They have a joint venture with Otis Elevators called Otis Saudi and own a bus line with Greyhound called Greyhound Services Saudi Arabia. The family is a major shareholder in Investcorp- Bahrain’s largest petrodollar recycling firm. Kanoos have an interest in Ocean Inchcape Ltd., an offshore drilling maintenance services company controlled by the British Inchcape family of PONC/HSBC fame. The Kanoos hold a joint venture with another US construction giant, Foster Wheeler.
Other prominent Saudi families include the Bugshans, the Sulimans, the Abdul-Latif Jameels, the Zahids, the Rajhjis, the Kaakis, the bin Mahfouz and the bin Ladens. Abdul Latif Jameel is worth over $2 billion and has been Toyota’s agent in the Kingdom since 1955. His overseas investments are handled through Jaymont Properties of New York. The Al-Rajhi family owns Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corporation and is worth over $4 billion.
Sheik Khalid bin Mahfouz is worth over $2 billion. He owns National Commercial Bank, the largest in the Arab world, and was one of the biggest shareholders in BCCI.
The now-infamous bin Laden family earned its fortune in the construction business, building the Saudi Royal Palace and refurbishing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Salem bin Laden was a close business associate of George W. Bush friend James Bath. The bin Laden’s funded an Islamic Studies Chair at Harvard. George Bush Sr. works at Carlyle Group, which managed the bin Laden family fortune until November 2001. Both Mohammed (Osama’s father) and Salem bin Laden died in plane crashes.
The most important of the Saudi families are the Olayans, whose patriarch Sulaiman is the ARAMCO dispatcher turned billionaire Morgan Guaranty insider. His Olayan Group was set up with help from Bechtel near ARAMCO headquarters at Dhahran. Soon the Saudi Arabia Bechtel Corporation was launched, with Olayan as partner. Saudi Arabian Bechtel built the huge Ghazlan I and II power stations in Eastern Province, which supply most of the Kingdom’s electricity. It also built most of the countries oil and natural gas pipelines and a sea-water injection plant for the world’s largest offshore oilfield at Ghawar.
Arabian Bechtel Company is a more recent Olayan/Bechtel venture in which Crown Prince Mohammed Fahd has an interest. It built and manages the huge Jubail Industrial City and built the new international airport at Riyadh. Another joint venture, Saudi Arabian Bechtel Equipment Company, leases heavy equipment in the Kingdom. But Olayan’s dealings with Bechtel are just the tip of the family iceberg.
The Olayan clan owns General Contracting Company which often subcontracts for ARAMCO projects and serves as sales agent for International Harvester, FMC, United Technologies, Chrysler, Crane, Freuhauf, ITT, Grinnell, Cummins, British Leyland and Kenworth among others. In the consumer products realm, the Olayan’s General Trading Company is sales agent for American Tobacco, Armour, Nescafe, Dial, Bristol Meyers Squibb, Campbell’s Soup, Hunt-Wesson, 3M, Swisher, Sterling Drug and Kimberly-Clark. Through still other companies, the Olayan’s represent Kawasaki Steel, Hughes Tool, Mitsubishi and Owens-Corning.
Their Industrial Converting Company manufactures Kimberly-Clark paper products. Arabian Commercial Enterprises (ACE) is the family’s insurance arm. Its clients include ARAMCO, Bechtel, BP Amoco, Mobil and Getty Oil. ACE owns Al Nisr Insurance Company in Lebanon and Saudi Arabian Insurance of Bermuda. Olayan’s have two chemical joint ventures with the Swedish firm Nitro Nobel and one with Houston-based Champion Chemicals. Olayan Group owns half of United Technologies Saudi Arabia, through which it sells Pratt & Whitney engines and Otis elevators. A joint venture with Texaco is Sappco-Texaco Insulation Products. Olayan’s Saudi Security Services works with Burns International Security and Freeport Security in protecting multinational operations in the Kingdom.
Some of Olayan’s business connections are less mundane. His partner in joint venture Evergreen Saudi Arabian Aviation is Evergreen Aviation, the airline which arms dealer/pilot Richard Brenneke worked for in flying arms to the Nicaraguan contras. The Oregon firm has a long history as a CIA contract airline. Olayan Finance Company is tied up with Barclays Bank, a key player in the Caribbean Silver Triangle drug money laundering process, and with Hong Kong’s Jardine Matheson conglomerate, owner of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and much of HSBC. This “triad” joint venture is known as Barclays Jardine Olayan and is incorporated in the Cayman Islands. The Olayan’s are also close to American Express (AMEX), where family scion Sulaiman was once a board member alongside Henry Kissinger. AMEX has ties to the global drug trade through its links with Edmund Safra’s Republic Bank, purchased in 1999 by HSBC.
As the Olayan’s have amassed their wealth, they have invested heavily in Western banks and corporations, epitomizing the recycling of petrodollars which has become the norm of the Saudi elite. In 1981 the Olayan’s bought big chunks of stock in Chevron, Texaco, Amoco and Conoco. Sulaiman Olayan and Crown Prince Khaled bin Abdullah bin Abdel Rahman al Saud own Competrol, which holds a 1% stake of J.P. Morgan Chase. Competrol owns similar stakes in Mellon Bank, Southeast Bancorp, Valley National First Bank Systems of Phoenix, First Interstate Bank and Hawaii Bancorp. Competrol owns 19% of private equity firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette and 8% of First Chicago Corporation, a long-time CIA money laundry. The Olayans own big chunks of Occidental Petroleum, Westinghouse, Thermo Electron, Whittaker and United Technologies. Sulaiman Olayan has served on the boards of Morgan Guaranty, Exxon Mobil and American Express. He is chairman of the Saudi-Spanish Bank in Madrid and member of Morgan Guaranty Trust’s International Council.
Billionaire Sulaiman Olayan is a fine metaphor for US/Saudi relations. His immense wealth and influence are a direct result of his willingness to aid in the neo-colonization of his country’s oil reserves. Further, his decision to invest this ill-gotten wealth in the West, rather than in the development of the Arab world, has contributed to poverty and unrest in the region.
Should Assad retain the upper hand in Syria, Olayan and his boot-licking brethren will begin to sleep less well. Payback can be a bitch.